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4.3 out of 5 stars
43
4.3 out of 5 stars
The Book of Evidence (Frames)
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 7 July 2015
Freddie Montgomery is a man who likes to take chances, and when he discovers an acquaintance of his has a secret, he blackmails him into handing over a large amount of hush money. Freddie and his wife, Daphne, who are temporarily domiciled on a Mediterranean island, have a high old time spending the cash, but it is not until practically all of the money has been squandered that Freddie discovers it has been borrowed from a wily loan shark, who is expecting Freddie to pay him back, and quickly. Freddie leaves his wife (and their small son) and returns home to the family 'pile' in Ireland, only to discover that his widowed mother has sold all the family heirlooms, including the paintings, in order to keep her head above water. Furious that his mother has sold what Freddie considers his birthright, he storms out of the house to pay a visit to Helmut Behrens, an old friend of the family, who Freddie suspects has bought the Montgomery family's paintings for less than they were worth. When he spots a valuable Dutch master in the Behren's drawing room, Freddie concocts a hare-brained scheme to return and steal the painting - which surprisingly he manages to accomplish, but then something goes very wrong and Freddie finds himself on remand for murder (not a spoiler, we know right from the outset that Freddie is in prison facing a murder charge).

First-person narrated by the very self-absorbed (and probably psychopathic) Freddie, John Banville's 1989 Booker Prize shortlisted 'The Book of Evidence' pulls the reader into Freddie's world, and what a very unsettling place Freddie's world is. But Freddie, we soon discover, is a rather unreliable narrator, so how much of his sorry tale can we believe? And is Freddie just a very selfish and self-absorbed character with very little empathy for anyone else, or does he have some kind of personality or psychotic disorder? And if so, should he be held wholly responsible for his crimes? Smoothly and beautifully written, with some marvellous descriptions of situation and setting, this was an involving and (despite the rather gruesome murder scene) an entertaining read, but once I had turned the last page I have to say that I was rather glad to leave Freddie behind me.

4 Stars.
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VINE VOICEon 5 February 2014
Based on a true story, this is a fascinating exploration of the mind of a murderer and his world. Irish writer John Banville is a brilliant stylist,and in this novel he combines coruscating prose with a vividly drawn characters and a plot that keeps drawing you in. There is also much dark humour. Highly recommended if you like both literary fiction and thrillers.
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on 3 August 2017
Incredible use of language-- as always with Banville
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on 8 December 2012
Unputdownable. Although I am totally biased as I love John Banville's work (along with his alias of Benjamin Black), I would strongly recommend this book. By the end of the book, I didn't know whether to love Freddie Montgomery or give him a good slap!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 February 2012
This book has excited great enthusiasm from reviewers but for me the parts - or at least some of them - seem greater than the whole. It starts with some wonderfully sharp, original and focused writing, compelling attention, admiration and the desire to read on. Throughout there are patches of evocation which transcend areas that are much looser. The opening to Part 2 is again beautifully written and again promises to lift the narrative from the rather ordinary into which the latter half of Part 1 has slumped. I'm not at all sure that the central character is of sufficient interest, so that felicities of style come to be valued for their own sake rather than for their role in developing a complex psychology. The ending seems at best arbitrary and the secondary characters are close to stereotypes. Banville can certainly write and the concept promises much. However, at the end I wondered what it all really added up to. I was left with the sense of something approaching a lost opportunity.
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on 20 January 2006
I'm going to get burned for this review, but...
I hated it. The characters were an inexplicable mix of misfits and pariahs and Banville's contempt for ordinary folk is simply horrid. The turgid plot is dragged along with Mogadon-esque speed towards a predictable, and it felt to me, almost unreachable end. The lead character shows a bi-polar mix of intellectual sophistication and almost insane stupidity and I just felt utterly, utterly bored with his life. What Frederick needed was a good, five to ten minute kicking and a hobby: what a loser.
The prose makes Henry James read like The Beano and Banville is so addicted to his thesaurus that I had to stop every ten minutes to look up some utterly mindless alter word for a milk jug...or gate or something. Even Joyce was more enjoyable than this.
I gleaned nothing from this book and had to read Farewell to Arms again afterwards just to reaffirm my faith in literature. Booker prize nominated? Your 'avin' a larf.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 February 2014
John Banville's books are so full of words that it is useful to have a dictionary on hand to check the less familiar, such as `balanic', `ataraxic', `ototomic', `accidie', gleet' and `stravaige'. The narrator, Freddie Montgomery [Frederick Charles St John Vanderveld Montgomery], writing from prison where he is held on a charge of murder, requests a dictionary early on so as to ensure that his usage is correct.

The story of Freddie's life, leading to how he ended up in prison, is revealed slowly with flashbacks in a series of jigsaw pieces. However, as well as being prolix the narrator is offering us his version of events, so his story cannot be taken on trust.

Freddie is a research statistician who was well-respected within his field and worked for a decade in America. Then he gave it all up to return to Europe with his wife, Daphne, to live in a number of locations in the Mediterranean. He lets his funds slip through his fingers and naively obtains a loan that, rather to his surprise, must be repaid. Whilst his wife and family are kept as hostages, he returns to Ireland in search of the necessary funds.

There are some wonderful descriptions, such as when Freddie returns to see his mother after 10 years and finds the house derelict with his father's collection of paintings sold off to Helmut `Binkie' Behrens, to support his mother's idea of raising Connemara ponies as pets for `Japs and Germans'. Since this was the hoped-for source of money, Freddie visits `Whitewater', a surprisingly insecure mansion, to see whether he can convince Behrens and his daughter, Anna, to return some or all of his inheritance but finds that the works have already been sold.

A 17th-century Dutch picture, `Portrait of a Woman with Gloves', in Behrens' collection [that includes a Tintoretto, Fragonard, Watteau - all just in the hallway], exerts a strong attraction [`There is something in the way the woman regards me, the querulous, mute insistence of her eyes, which I can neither escape nor assuage. I squirm in front of her gaze. She requires of me some great effort, some tremendous feat of scrutiny and attention, of which I do not think I am capable. It is as if she were asking me to let her live.'] and so Freddie resolves to return to the house to steal it.

The extended description of the painting and its effect on the narrator is a really remarkable piece of writing that, unfortunately, the author only sporadically repeats. However, he is very good at revealing the feelings that Freddie, as boy and man, has for his parents and how these have indirectly affected his life. The Ireland that Freddie returns to is slightly too Guinnessy/Magnersy with its taxi drivers, police, old people, bar owners and regulars all teetering on the verge of the overtly comic.

For me the main problem with the book, set out through Freddie's eyes, is that his character is insufficiently substantial to carry everything that is piled on top of it. In this case I feel that the detachment of Banville's narrator from everyday life is a distinct weakness. From time to time the complexity of sentence construction and the prolixity subvert the narrative drive. There are a great many sentences and paragraphs, even pages, that one wants to re-read for their beauty but it is often necessary to do this simply to understand precisely what the author is getting at.

Freddie is selfish, self-centred, immoral and perhaps mentally-disturbed, but, since it is through his eyes that everything that we know about him, his relationships, motivations and actions, is filtered, maybe he is manipulating the reader in the same way that he and his counsel, and friend, Maolseachlainn Mac Giolla Gunna hope to manipulate the judge and jury. Few of the other characters, his mother and Anna being exceptions, do more than fill in gaps in the story.

The novel was short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize and I have to confess that Banville is a writer that I generally enjoy but, in this case, I was not overly impressed [7/10]. It is a relatively short book, just over 200 pages, and so will not take a long time to read - including looking up those meanings in the dictionary.
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on 16 June 2010
Banville writes exquisitely. The sentences are invariably arresting and his use of language and imagery is magnificent. It's a very dark novel; so dark that I had to put it down for a few days at a time in order for the enormity and the relentless misery of the protagonist's situation to sink in. But if you allow yourself time for his prose to sink in, you will return to Banville's work again and again. Once finished, it's worth reading all over again. A very compelling novel indeed.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 9 March 2015
This is the first book by this author that I have read, but I shall most definitely be reading more. I’m delighted to find that this is followed by two more books featuring Freddie Montgomery, the narrator of this book – Ghosts, and Athena and I look forward greatly to reading them.

This book is the narration of the life of Freddie Montgomery, as seen through the eyes of Freddie himself. We are treated to his narrative, and what a narrative it is. It’s difficult to tell at first what kind of person Freddie is, but it doesn’t take too long before we can start to understand that he is a man who is tinged with a large dose of narcissism, and also has a fairly amoral outlook. Everything in the world, and all the people in the world, are there to make something of Freddie – otherwise, what use are they? His monologue focuses on the crime that has put him in prison, but throughout we are also treated to his thoughts on his life so far – his upbringing, his family, the circumstances that led to him returning home in the first place. A thoroughly unlikeable man, yet he sees himself as adding delight and meaning to the lives of others. A man of utter contradiction, what we read is his own view – and how close to the truth can we believe it to be?

This is an absolute delight to read; while the crime is unspeakable, and the man abhorrent, the book itself is utterly spellbinding. The narrative is hypnotic, the language is beautiful and yet approachable, layered with nuance. Freddie’s spiral into mid-life seems inexorable, yet it is totally the outcome of his own actions, and he appears completely unable to see that. I look forward immensely to reading Ghosts.
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on 22 January 2014
Consider this a warning that I'm far from objective when it comes to John Banville and his incandescent yet gritty fiction. No one crafts sentences with more thrift or flourish. His art is to select just the right word to construct backdrops, frame characters, and set action into motion, simultaneously folding in parentheticals to add running commentary or to intimately ruminate on past events. Reading Banville is a slow exercise in the best sense. It takes time to appreciate the cadence of prose that rivals poetry, drama, and paintings. His descriptions are keen and bestow a vibrancy that is palatable. Athena is a paean to a seductress, a muse, a figment that utterly captivates until she "steps out of her frame". This is an earthy literary confection to be savored.
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